by Bob Roehr
Supporters of medical use of marijuana made little progress in an attempt to rein in federal raids in those states that allow use of that product. On July 25, a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives to do that failed 165-262.
The Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment is based upon the principle of federalism. It would order the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and federal prosecutors not to raid or pursue legal action against people and organizations that comply with state laws allowing medical marijuana.
The vote was largely along party lines, with 150 Democrats and only 15 Republicans supporting the amendment. Still, more than a third of Democrats voted no. That included most of the newly elected freshman who helped the Democrats regain control of the House. While some anticipated such a vote from North Carolina “moderate” Heath Schuler, the no vote from California “progressive” Jerry McNerney was disappointing. Perhaps most surprising was a yes vote by Paul C. Broun Jr., the conservative Georgia Republican physician in his first week on the job after winning a special election.
The vote total represents very slow progress in attempts to pass this legislation. A similar measure received 148 affirmative votes in 2004 and 161 votes in 2005.
“A lot of us believed, with a Democratic majority and with a Speaker of the House who has been supportive of the issue, that if it didn’t pass, we’d at least see more growth in support than we did,” said Bruce Mirken, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, or MPP, in Washington, D.C.
MPP executive director Rob Kampia added, “New studies continue to demonstrate marijuana’s benefits, and public support is overwhelming, but many in Congress seem not to care how many patients suffer.”
The vote came on the same day that the DEA raided 10 medical marijuana dispensaries in the Los Angeles area, even while the city council was voting on legislation to regulate those dispensaries.
“These continued actions by the DEA are reprehensible. They show that the federal government will stop at nothing to undermine California’s medical marijuana laws,” said Chris Fusco with Americans for Safe Access.
Progress continues to be made at the state level. A medical marijuana law went into effect in New Mexico on July 1. The Rhode Island legislature overrode a veto by the governor in June to make the law permanent in that state. And Vermont has liberalized coverage of its law.
Mental health risks
A new analysis of several older studies has shown an increased long-term risk for psychiatric disorders among those who smoke cannabis. The risk increased the younger a person started smoking pot – and the greater the quantities that person smoked. The meta-analysis appeared in the July 28 issue of The Lancet.
Mitch Earleywine praised the rigor of the study but downplayed its significance. The expert on psychology and marijuana, based at the University at Albany State University of New York, said, “Rates of schizophrenia in the U.S. are about five per 1,000 persons, so they could drop as low as three per 1,000 if cannabis disappeared from the face of the earth and really had all of the effects it’s supposed to have.”
Even if the association between use of marijuana and psychiatric disorders is true, that does not necessarily mean that using pot caused the disorders. It is quite possible that people predisposed to those disorders are more likely to seek out and use substances such as marijuana, researchers noted. And, absent marijuana, such individuals might well turn to other substances.
“The meta-message of research such as this is often, ‘So we better throw the potheads in jail immediately after torture,'” Earleywine said. But 70 years of trying has shown that “prohibition has done zilch to keep cannabis out of the hands of teens.” He favors regulation and taxing the product.